James Nelson – Reuters January 16, 2011
A proposed unmanned floating airship surveillance system is being hailed by city officials in Ogden, Utah as one way to fight crime in its neighborhoods.
“We believe it will be a deterrent to crime when it is out and about and will help us solve crimes more quickly when they do occur,” Ogden City Mayor Matthew Godfrey told Reuters.
The airship entails military technology now available to local law enforcement, he said.
Godfrey floated the idea of a dirigible in the skies above Ogden for his city council members last week. The council is expected to vote on the measure in coming weeks.
He says the cost of the blimp is being negotiated but said it is more “cost effective” to operate than helicopters or fixed winged aircraft.
“We anticipate using it mainly at night. The cameras have incredible night vision to see with tremendous clarity daytime and nightime. It will be used like a patrol car. It will be used to go and check things out and keep things safe,” said Godfrey.
One person will be able to operate the system but Godfrey says it will also function on its own with programming directives.
The blimp is 52 feet long, will be outfitted with two cameras, and is capable of flying up to 40 miles per hour at 400 feet above the city.
Officials say the cigar-shaped blimp, powered by electric batteries, can fly for four to six hours before needing to be recharged.
“Once you understand the capability of the technology as well, not only the cameras but the ability to relay that data from the camera down to ground it’s amazing,” said Godfrey.
The blimp is long but narrow and moves quickly and quietly, meaning it should be fairly undetectable, he said.
The blimp is being developed by the Utah Center for Aeronautical Innovation and Design at Weber State University. Researchers say the blimp is a helium filled balloon with a special coating of fabric developed at their center.
“The very lightweight fabric was developed in partnership with the Utah State Legislature who gave us a grant… The air envelope would leak the helium it would penetrate through so it had to be coated,” said Bradley Stringer, research team executive director.
Ogden will be the first metropolitan police force to employ this technology, Stringer said.
The blimp has almost no operational costs and minimal maintenance expenses, he said. Ogden city officials say it will cost about $100 a month to operate but would not comment specifically on the cost of the blimp.
“It’s in the high five-figures. Most of the cost is in the night vision cameras,” Stringer said.
“It’s extremely silent. It can hover or stay stationery or silently meander over pre-programed courses over the city at nighttime.”
Stringer said the Ogden City Police would receive the blimp in April. Testing is now underway and will continue right up to delivery.